Archive for the ‘Illinois’ Category


Top 10 Haunted Hotels in the US

Halloween is approaching and spookiness is in the air, so we thought we’d bring you some of the country’s most notorious haunted hotels to consider for your next trip. Why settle for a plain old hotel stay when you could add apparitions, strange noises in the night, locking and unlocking doors, and more to the experience?

Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans - Image credit: Flickr

Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans - Image credit: Flickr

Check out these haunted spots from the Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend, WA to the land of voodoo and witchcraft itself, New Orleans, LA, and find the spot that’s right for your next journey!

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Every year, Frommer’s releases their must-do travel list, and it’s always sure to include at least a few eyebrow-raisers. Beirut, Lebanon? You might not know that it’s a sophisticated coastal city bustling with energy. Kansas City, MO? The world-class Kauffmann Center for the Performing Arts just opened, attracting some of the biggest names in dance and music.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Photo credit: Flickr

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Photo credit: Flickr

Check out the full list here for some other surprising – and not so surprising – travel ideas.


Fourth of July really snuck up on me this year, as it seems to do every year. If you’re in the same boat as me (read: have no idea what to do for the holiday), here is a list of great events and fireworks displays going on in some major U.S. cities.

Photo: ** Maurice **

Photo: ** Maurice **

San Francisco

Fourth of July Waterfront Celebration
Head down to the touristy, but always fun, Pier 39 for a day of clam chowder in bread bowls, free live music (80s hits and soft rock), street performers and, of course, the city’s annual fireworks display. You can’t really beat watching fireworks over the San Francisco Bay.

For more information, visit

Las Vegas
For the more adult crowd, hotels and casinos galore will be featuring fireworks displays, from Caesars Palace to the Las Vegas Hilton to Mandalay Bay and many others, as you can easily imagine. Parties are also abundant and many feature celebrity hosts, DJs or performers.

For more information, visit

Los Angeles

July 4th Fireworks Spectacular
Have a star-studded Fourth of July at the Hollywood Bowl. Pack a picnic, bring a blanket and watch LA’s largest fireworks displays. Add in performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West, special guest Vince Gill and more, and you’ll have a rockin’ Fourth of July celebration.

For more information, visit

Beer fanatics be aware, July 2 to July 4 is the Seattle International Beer Fest! With approximately 130 different beers from 15 counties, Beer Fest is a great place to spend the earlier hours of Fourth of July. By nightfall, you’ll be warm and content watching the fireworks over Lake Union.

For more information on Lake Union’s fireworks display, visit

Head down to the Windy City’s Navy Pier to check out three simultaneous fireworks shows. In addition to downtown, the fireworks will also be visable from the north and sides of Chicago.

For more information, visit

Washington D.C.

The National Independence Day Parade

For those looking to really connect with the true meaning of Independence Day, The National Independence Day Parade is a great event to attend. The annual event takes place at 11:45 a.m. on Constitution Avenue, from 7th to 17th, and includes invited bands, fife and drum corps, floats, military and specialty units, giant balloons, equestrian, drill teams, VIP’s, national dignitaries, and celebrity participants.

For more information, visit

New York City
Macy’s Annual Fourth of July Fireworks

Head to the Hudson River for the nation’s largest fireworks display—Macy’s Annual Fourth of July Fireworks. More than 40,000 fireworks shells at a rate of 1,500 per minute will quell any pyrotechnic lover’s desire to see elaborate and beautiful explosions in the sky.

For more information, visit


Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular dates back 37 years and continues to be one of the most beloved Fourth of July celebrations in the United States. Featured guests include Toby Keith, Craig Ferguson, Keith Lockhart and more. So head down to Charles River on the 3rd and the 4th to enjoy the concerts and the amazing fireworks display.

For more information, visit



Happy Fourth of July and congrats to Gina L. from New Orleans, our newest winner of Trip of the Week and recipient of a Frommer’s day by day guide to Italy.

Gina built this trip to Chicago on TravelMuse to enjoy with her fiancé. Her mother is meeting them for the last few days to celebrate her birthday on the ninth. There are definitely some great dining spots on this itinerary—you two must be foodies.

mp and gi(2)

Trip of the Week winner Gina and her fiancé

Why are you taking this Trip?

We are taking this trip because Michael has a conference, we love to travel and vacation, and we just got engaged!

What are you most excited about seeing/doing?

Being from New Orleans, we are complete foodies, so we are excited to go to one of the few other places in the United States that has lots of food choices. This will be my first time to Chicago. We love the arts, culture and city life. I am excited to see Millennium Park and really want to embrace Chicago culture and do things the way a local would do them.

Any other interesting facts/ considerations about the trip?

I’m hoping that it’s not as humid as it is here in New Orleans. It will also be nice to get away from the sadness of the oil spill.

Have fun in Chicago and congrats on your engagement!


Tell us about your Trips and you could be featured in Trip of the Week–win one of the new Frommer’s Day by Day Guide Books and be entered to win a FREE, luxury Trip for 2 to Waikiki!


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Trip of the Week: Bonding at 80mph

Congratulations,  Carrie, Montara, Calif. Our first winner of Trip of the Week and recipient of a Frommer’s day by day guide to Hawaii.

Carrie and her daughter are about to embark on a trip from Chicago to California and recently built out this fantastic Road Trip together on TravelMuse!

Trip Chicago to California

I asked Carrie a few questions about her upcoming trip:

Why are you taking this trip?

My 19-year-old daughter has been less than enthusiastic about the prospect of getting her driver’s license. This is in no small part because my car is difficult to learn on since it has a standard transmission. When my aunt decided that she wasn’t going to use her car anymore, we jumped on the opportunity to buy it. Not only does her car have an automatic transmission, but it’s only $1,000. The catch? She lives in Chicago and we are in California. With a cry of, “Road trip!” we decided to fly one way to Chicago and then see as many sights as we could, both big and small, as we drove the newly acquired car back to our home in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

What are you most excited about seeing/doing on your trip?

Although we’ll be going to some big attractions — Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons — I’m most excited about visiting the campy roadside attractions like the SPAM museum (the canned meat, not the electronic junk mail) in Austin, Minn.; the Potato Expo, Blackfoot in Idaho (motto: We give taters to Out-of-Staters); and the almost indescribable Thunder Mountain Park in Imlay, Nev. My daughter has a great sense of humor so I know that these offbeat attractions will be the foundation inside jokes and for stories that we tell and retell.

Any other interesting facts you care to share?

Normally, I’d plan a road trip that allowed for more spontaneity — stopping when we were tired and finding cheap motels along the way. But we are working with some firm deadlines. The day before we leave my daughter is taking her last final exam and has to move out of her college dorm. The day after we arrive home, my daughter is flying to Armenia where she will spend six weeks doing a summer program at an archeological dig site.  The upside about having this trip very planned is that we will be able to do things that require reservations, such as going white water rafting in the Grand Tetons and taking a Segway Tour in Chicago. The downside is that not only are we spending only one day in places that most people spend a week visiting, but we will be feeling the pressure of racing against the clock since we must make it home in time for her to make her flight the next day!

Wishing you safe and happy travels, Carrie!


Tell us about your Trips and you could be featured in Trip of the Week–win one of the new Frommer’s Day by Day Guide Books and be entered to win a FREE, luxury Trip for 2 to Waikiki!

TravelMuse Sweepstakes Win a Luxury Trip to Hawaii

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In addition to Singapore, which I wrote about on Friday, Chicago is another great dining destination—I’m not saying that merely because it’s my hometown. You can get not only fantastic casual (pizza, sausages), ethnic (Mexican, Thai), and traditional (steakhouse, diner) meals there, but also some of the best fine-dining in the country, from the legendary Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter’s) to the innovative Grant Achatz (Alinea).

On my recent return visit, there were three new places both friends and strangers consistently mentioned: Xoco, Terzo Piano and Nightwood.

Xoco, 449 N. Clark St. (enter on Illinois), 312-334-3688,

Xoco is the latest establishment from one of Chicago’s most famous chefs, Rick Bayless. It opened on Sept. 8, and the lines have been out the door ever since. Bayless made a name for himself with Mexican cuisine (at restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo) and continues to do so with Xoco. This time around the focus is on Mexican street food.


The Almendrado chocolate and churros at Xoco. (Credit: Donna M. Airoldi)

I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of Frontera—I’ve enjoyed better food (and prices) in other Chicago Mexican restaurants that were more authentic and didn’t come with a room full of North Side and suburban yuppies—so I wasn’t entirely looking forward to the experience. However, I was pleasantly surprise this time. My two dining companions and I were all impressed, especially with the “Bean-to-Cup Chocolate,” quite possible the best hot chocolate outside of Spain or Mexico. Be sure to get the 3-for-$3 churros—crunchy and cinnamon-coated on the outside, soft on the inside—for dipping. I also was quite taken with the homemade tortilla chips.

The tortas (served after 11 a.m.) come on traditional Mexican breads: bolillo, similar to a baguette, for those from the wood-burning oven; telera, slightly rounder and softer, for the pressed sandwiches. My conchinita pibil—wood-roasted suckling pig with achiete, black beans, pickled onion and habanero—was tender, tasty and, when dipped in the fiery accompanying sauce, tingly. The caldos (soups) sounded divine—shortrib red chile soup with braised tallgrass shortribs, red chile broth, roasted vegetables, epazote, wild arugula and lime, anyone?—but are served after 3 p.m., so we were too early to taste those. The breakfast menu, served until 10:30 a.m., tempted as well.

Xoco is the smallest and most casual of Bayless’ restaurants: no reservations accepted, and you stand in line (plan on at least an hour or longer), then place your order at the register—but not before you’re handed a card, indicating that there is a seat available for you. It’s daunting/annoying at first, but works surprisingly well, provided you don’t mind the long wait.

Average prices: Breakfast, $2 to $7.50; Tortas, $8 to $12; Caldos, $10.50 to $12.50; Salads and Sides, $3 to $8.50; Hot Chocolate, $2.50 to $3.25. Hours: Tue. to Thu., 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri., 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sun. and Mon.

Terzo Piano, 150 E. Monroe St. (third floor of the Modern Wing, Art Institute of Chicago), 312-443-8650,

The new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago was tops on my list for new attractions to see during this visit. Lunch at its new restaurant was an added bonus.

We called for a Monday reservation, but the restaurant was booked full. No surprise since the place is overseen by chef Tony Mantuano, of Spiaggia fame, and open for dinner just one night per week (Thursdays). We tried our luck with a cancellation, showed up at noon, and were seated in the slick, modern (natch), all-white-décor dining room within 15 minutes. Not bad.



Dietzler Farm stead salad; interior at Terzo Piano. (Credit: Donna M. Airoldi)

The food wasn’t bad either. My friend and I were each in the mood for healthy greens. She tried the Mizuna salad with Miller’s organic chicken breast, avocado, cilantro, lime and ginger cashew dressing. My Dietzler Farm steak salad with arugula, orange, kalamata olives and almonds with a caper-mustard dressing was quite good—and I was thrilled with the hefty amount of meat included, which was cooked perfectly rare. I preferred the steak over the chicken (which was a tad bland), and while chock full of fresh ingredients, we both agreed that each salad suffered from a heavy-handed pour of dressing, and mine was a tad too salty. Lesson learned: ask for the dressing on the side.

The dessert selections were spot on, however—light, with just enough sugar to satisfy a sweet tooth. It was difficult to decide between the local wildflower honey panna cotta with autumn fruit compote and rosemary, and the almond financier with blueberry thyme compote and crème fraîche sorbet. We chose the latter, which came instead with cranberry compote since the kitchen was out of blueberries.

Lunch prices: Appetizers, $7 to 16; Sandwiches/Salads, $15 to $19; Pasta/Entrees, $18 to $25; Desserts, $9. Hours: Lunch, Mon. to Sun., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Antipasti and Aperitivo, Thu., 3 to 5 p.m.; Dinner (ala carte or $45 3-course prix fixe), Thu. only, 5 to 9 p.m.

Nightwood, 2119 S. Halsted St. (Pilsen neighborhood), 312-526-3385,

No fewer than five individuals recommended this place, open since May. And how could they not, when the owners are the husband-and-wife team (Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds) behind Lula Café, a fantastic restaurant in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. It has been getting raves since it opened 10 years ago (and is where, I’m told, local chefs go to eat when they’re not working in their own kitchens).


Nightwood interior. (Credit: Jason Little Photography)

The menu changes daily as all ingredients are sourced from local farms and markets, for a locavore’s dream meal. One consistency: many dishes are wood-grilled. Those that have impressed local critics in recent months: “anything with chicken liver … potato gnocchi with tomato and corn … spit-roasted pork loin accompanied by roasted apricots and topped with a delicious blend of chopped olives and crème fraîche,” suggested Phil Vettel in the Chicago Tribune. “A brioche bread pudding appetizer was homey and inspired … the woodsy scent of the cheeseburger (worth ordering for the crisp french fries alone) hints at the meat’s earthy flavor,” wrote Time Out Chicago’s Julia Kramer.

Alas, I was unable to make it to this South Side newcomer before my visit ended as I staying on the North Side and was carless. However I have no doubt the trip would have been worth the effort via public transportation, had I had the time, given how much I adore Lula (where I did manage to get in an amazing dinner last week). Readers, next time you’re in Chicago, you’ll just have to try it and let me know how it goes.

Prices: Appetizers, $7 to $10; Entrees, $13 to $26; Desserts, $2.50 to $8; Brunch entrees, $6 to $14. Hours: Dinner, Tue. to Sat., 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Sun. Brunch, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Closed Mon.



Remembering John Hughes and Chicago

I was shocked and saddened by the news yesterday that film director John Hughes had died. Hughes and Chicago are forever linked, as the city and its suburbs serve as the location for many of his films.

I grew up in Chicagoland, as it’s called locally, and was a teenager still when his early films were released. I particularly identified with his underdog characters and their class issues, having come from a blue-collar community, and his portrayals remained pretty honest. Also, how could you not love a guy who created the best soundtracks of the era, with The Psychedelic Furs, The Thompson Twins, Oingo Boingo, Simple Minds, The Vapors, The Divinyls and Yello? New Wave at its finest.



Cast from The Breakfast Club (© 1985 Universal Pictures); John Hughes, circa 1990 (© Paul Natkin/WireImage).

In 1984 I was working at the top movie theater in the city when Hughes was filming The Breakfast Club. Emilio Estevez came in several Sundays in a row to spend his one-day-a-week off watching movies. He was super sweet and always asked what I was studying, since I inevitably had a textbook perched on my lap when he’d buy his tickets. We’d then talk for a few minutes about how filming went that week before he disappeared into the screening room. Each time I see The Breakfast Club on cable I think about our brief chats and, again, how he was such a nice guy.

After Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out, Chicago officially became Hughes’ town. In honor of the man and the city, here are a few memorable Chicago attractions wonderfully captured in John Hughes’ films.

10. Art Institute of ChicagoFerris Bueller’s Day Off

9. American Airlines terminal at O’Hare International Airport — Home Alone

8. Chicago’s North Shore “Gold Coast” suburbs, including Evanston, Winnetka, Highland Park, Lake Forest and Glencoe, particularly the high schools in the area. Take your pick of just about any of Hughes’ movies, but especially The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

7. Chicago Marina TowersFerris Bueller’s Day Off. The “Corn Husk” towers parking garage attendants took Cameron’s Ferrari on a joy ride.

6. The Braidwood Inn (now the Days Inn Braidwood) — Planes Trains and Automobiles. “They’re not pillows!” scene. (Braidwood is a small town about 50 miles southwest of Chicago.)

5. Field Museum of Natural HistoryShe’s Having a Baby

4. Wrigley FieldFerris Bueller’s Day Off

3. Marshall Field & Company flagship department store (recently renamed Macy’s) in Chicago’s Loop — National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

2. Ben Rose Auto Museum, 370 Beech St., Highland Park — Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Cameron’s home and Ferrari garage. (The house was recently put on the market for $2.3 million.)
1. Chicago Pulaski Day ParadeFerris Bueller’s Day Off

What are some of your favorite Chicagoland John Hughes movie locations?